Blogging has helped me confront imposter syndrome.
So far, I've been framing the blog posts in this series as lessons I've learned. I've tried to be as authoritative as possible. I've used self-deprecation and dry humor to try to get my point across. Some people have understood my intent, and some haven't, and this has left me questioning how good I am at reflecting in a manner that's productive for myself and for my readers. If people don't understand my humor, am I fraud at expressing myself, even on a public medium like a blog? Or, I could draw an even more dire conclusion: that everyone sees through my humor and knows that some of this self-deprecation is actually serious.
Imposter syndrome is not a new term for most people who work in academia. Over time, it has permeated other areas of my life (or perhaps it's the other way around?). I've felt it on and off throughout the years as a teacher, and I've felt it when I try to prove that I'm worthy of the passions I ascribe to. One area where my imposter syndrome really comes out is when I talk to other science fiction nerds. I got into the sci fi genre rather late in life after taking a science fiction comp lit class in college. For this reason, I didn't watch Firefly, Star Trek, or Stargate until my mid-twenties. To this day, I continue to read so many genres that I still frequently fall behind on what's current in sci fi pop culture. I get stressed out by how many books I still have to read and shows I've left unwatched. What if other writers know just how little I know about the writers I'm supposed to know? I've never read Tolstoy or Proust. Infinite Jest sits on my bookshelf infinitely jesting about how I'm never going to read it.
It gets worse. Science fiction people, cover your eyes: I've only finished one book in the Foundation series. I don't like Doctor Who. At book clubs, I would say that there are one in five times when I nod my head and pretend that I've heard of a certain author just to avoid sounding stupid. I'm admitting this in the hopes that more of you will come forward. Am I the only reading imposter?
In academia, I feel like an imposter in a vastly different way. It's not so much about a lack of what I know, but a feeling that I lack innovation in the things I do know. I always feel that the research-backed opinions I have to share in meetings and at conferences are obvious. When will people get tired of talking about scaffolding and using authentic texts in English language teaching? How many times can I wax poetic about corrective feedback before someone figures out that I'm basically quoting one book that really stuck out to me throughout the years? I wonder when it's going to come out that I've never taken a stats course, or when people will be disappointed that I'm a language educator who only speaks 2.5 languages, and unexceptionally at that?
Yet I feel confident talking about weight lifting and nutrition, and I don't shy away from scientific conversations about how to improve at running. I think these topics feel safer because nutrition feels highly subjective (even though it's not, from a strict energy in, energy out perspective) and I can argue my way out of any corner by saying that "what works for me might not work for you." I can't exactly use that same retort when someone asks me why I haven't read the Game of Thrones series yet, breaking my own rule about always reading books before watching their corresponding shows. It's usually these same people who don't know who Philip K. Dick is, to which I breathe a huge sigh of relief. We're all pretending that we know our shit, but even if we become experts on certain topics, there are lifetimes of information to know.
I saw an interesting tip online about how to overcome imposter syndrome. It was suggested that people suffering from it write the most insane beliefs and thoughts they had, but not show them to anyone. Voice your frauds to you and you alone.
But this is a public blog, so what would be the fun if I didn't show you what I wrote?
Here it is. My list of biggest frauds, my most insane beliefs, and my weirdest hang-ups. In retrospect, I was surprised to find that most of them were not, in fact, related to academics or writing, but to things that aren't all that important to my self-proclaimed areas of expertise.
Honestly, if God exists, I think that he/she/it is probably an alien species that is way, way smarter than us and just knows how to bend the rules of physics known to humanity and lacks any corporeal form that we can make sense of. It's a fun belief, so just let me have it. I'm not hurting anyone, except maybe the Flying Spaghetti Monster's feelings. And maybe that guy with crazy hair on Ancient Aliens. I mean...I know that nothing on the show really has any scientific basis, but...I want to believe.
I hate scrolling over oceans on Google Maps. Doesn't matter if it's live view or not, there's something terrifying about not being able to see land anywhere in sight. It makes me imagine being stranded at sea, and a mild sense of panic usually sets in and I have to zoom out until I can find the comfort of continents again.
I have convinced myself on more than one occasion that a dream has predicted the future. In one instance, it predicted a break up months before it happened. In another case, it predicted that I was going to get lost going somewhere, but I was given directions in the dream (I realize this one is less tenable, but my brain has convinced me it's true nevertheless). Of course, there is an explanation for this one: our brains are constantly playing tricks on us. We never recall a memory exactly the same way, since different stimuli might trigger the memory in the first place, sending us down a slightly different neural pathway each time. Or, our brains are tapping into our worst fears, and our subconscious knows before we do which fears are going to come to pass and which aren't.
I've worked at my job for four years and I still don't really understand how to use our office phones. At this point, I need to just go along with it and pretend I do. If anyone I work with is reading this, I apologize for all of the times I've "given someone your phone number to call you back" instead of just transferring the call. There is something terrifying about botching a call transfer that makes me usually stop dead in my tracks.
I can't blow a bubble gum bubble.
I can only whistle backwards (I inhale instead of exhale).
Dear readers, I am only a day ahead of you with this blog series. I did not plan out all 20 things I've learned in 2017 or the 17 things I haven't figured out yet. I'm worried that I will run out of things to talk about halfway through this blog series. The panic of running out of things to say, so far, has helped me continue to find things to say, but I wonder when my luck will harden into a big old writer's block.
In the past year, I have had a friend construct a text for me to send to someone I was interested in. As in, actually type it into my phone. Seriously, I should not be allowed to text. It sends me into a dizzying spiral of discourse analysis that usually ends in an intense conversation over drinks about what I should text in response to "hey." Unfortunately, studying conversations is actually something I feel pretty confident in given that I have a master's degree in it, but it often works more to my detriment, because I know all of the possible pragmatics behind something. After several painstaking hours of dissecting my non-existent texting game, my friends were ready to throttle me over a pile of diner pancakes as I wondered if it was a platonic "hey" or an interested "hey" and refused to respond to such a lazy instance of turn-taking.
Even in all of these seemingly blunt confessions, there are still a few omissions and little white lies. Truth is supposed to be stranger than fiction, but I think that's an oversimplification because the truth is always fictionalized. Regardless of our storytelling medium, every word we choose, every image we select, and every change in intonation alters and challenges our original story. In trying to entertain, we choose words that diminish the mundaneness or the grotesqueness of certain day-to-day realities. There is never a time that writing is not a little bit of distorting the truth to tell our truths.
Which brings me to the biggest truth bomb of this post: does lying--the very thing that sufferers of imposter syndrome claim to do constantly--actually solve the problem of feeling like an imposter?
Yes. I'll let you figure out if that's a lie or not.